Separation in Singapore

Last updated on October 16, 2020

Featured image for the "Separation in Singapore" article. It features a couple dragging their half of the sawn house.

In Singapore, separation is a popular solution for couples trapped in troubled marriages. Spouses may enter into a separation as and when they want because the laws regulating spousal relationship do not require cohabitation.

The sole ground for divorce is irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, and there are 4 legally defined ways of proving this irretrievable breakdown: adultery, desertion, unreasonable behaviour, or separation for a period of time. Separation is often the preferred option when neither party is at fault for the breakdown of the marriage.

There are 3 main ways for spouses to bring about separation:

  1. Informally, without a written document;
  2. With a deed of separation; and
  3. With a judgment of judicial separation.

Informal Separation

Couples are free to separate informally by living apart any time they wish to do so. However, in order for separation to count as a valid ground for divorce, the separation must be valid. Separations may be valid if either or both parties intend for it to lead to divorce. With an informal separation, physical separation is usually required.

Physical separation may be present even if the couples live under one roof, if there is a clear disruption of marital or sexual relations. Also, the parties must generally not have performed other typical spousal duties, such as cooking or cleaning for each other. Separation must also be by choice of the couple, and not merely a matter of necessity (e.g. if a husband works abroad for a year, that may not count as a valid separation).

Deed of Separation

In Singapore, a Deed of Separation is a formal, legally binding document signed by a married couple containing the terms and conditions of their arrangement to live separately. A deed of separation is also known as a separation deed.

There are two main categories of clauses in a Deed of Separation:

The first category contains terms relating to the separation itself. This includes the date when the parties separated, the living arrangements of both parties, and the agreement that both parties will live separately from each other.

The second category contains terms on financial arrangements between the spouses and other terms. This has to be mutually agreed upon. Examples of this would be whether there should be any division of matrimonial assets (who gets the car), maintenance terms concerning the children’s living arrangements (who gets to care for the child, and how much access the other spouse gets).

In this sense, a deed of separation is not too different from a divorce agreement. A lawyer is usually hired to draft the deed of separation, although an oral agreement or a written document composed by the couple may still hold water as a separation agreement.

It should be noted that a Deed of Separation can only be invoked with both spouses’ consent, and need not be registered with any government department or court. However, the Family Court can set aside terms of the Deed that it considers to be unfair or improper. Yet, this doesn’t not apply where the court has officially sanctioned the Deed.

While signing the Deed means that both parties can live apart, but it does not change the legal state of their marriage – both parties are still considered legally married despite the Deed of Separation. For either party to remarry, a divorce is necessary. Nonetheless, a Deed of Separation is useful as a precursor to divorce, in that it prepares both parties for the realities of divorce. In this sense, it is useful for spouses who have a hope of reconciling in the future.

Judicial Separation

Couples may also file for a court order for judicial separation, pursuant to section 101(1) of the Women’s Charter. This course of action may be more onerous, because of the need to prove the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, on the grounds of adultery, unreasonable behaviour, or desertion.

However, you might want to file for judicial separation if you believe your spouse will not comply with the terms of a deed of separation. This is because failure to comply with a court order (for judicial separation in this case) can constitute an offence.

For more information, read our other article on judicial separation in Singapore.

Marital Rape

By force of section 375(4) of the Penal Code, a husband can be found guilty of raping his wife if the act of penetration was done without her consent. It does not matter whether the couple were living together or separately at this time, or whether they were still married.

The penalties for marital rape in Singapore are a jail term of up to 20 years, and either a fine or caning.

Outcome

The separation can end in either reconciliation or divorce. The conditions for divorce continue to apply. 3 years of separation is required for divorce with both parties’ consent. 4 years of separation is needed for divorce without consent.

Should you require any guidance on the costs of hiring a divorce lawyer, please refer to our Divorce Fee Guide.

Couples may also wish to seek marriage counselling before they conclude on divorce.

Before getting a divorce
  1. Process for Getting Divorced in Singapore (With Diagram)
  2. How Can I Divorce Overseas?
  3. Mandatory Parenting Programme Guide for Divorcing Parents
  4. Online Divorce in Singapore: How It Works and Should You Get One?
  5. Getting a Divorce Due to “Irreconcilable Differences” in Singapore
  6. Judicial or Legal Separation in Singapore: When and How to File
  7. Should You Make a Post-Nuptial Agreement in Singapore?
  8. How to Divorce Within 3 Years of Marriage in Singapore
  9. Guide to Personal Protection Orders in Singapore
  10. Prenuptial Agreements in Singapore
  11. What are the Legal Grounds for Getting a Divorce?
  12. Separation in Singapore
  13. Annulling a Singapore Marriage: Requirements and Process
  14. Practical Preparations for a Divorce
  15. 3 Finance Questions To Ask Before a Divorce
Divorce Fees
  1. Comprehensive Guide to Divorce Fees in Singapore
Getting a Divorce Lawyer
  1. The Complete Guide to Choosing a Good Divorce Lawyer in Singapore
  2. First Meeting with Your Divorce Lawyer: What to Bring
  3. Don’t Just Go for the Cheapest Divorce Lawyer in Singapore
  4. Find Experienced Divorce Lawyers in Singapore
  5. Child Custody Lawyers in Singapore
Proving Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage
  1. How to Prove Adultery for Divorce Purposes in Singapore
  2. Getting a Divorce: How to Prove Desertion
  3. How to Prove Unreasonable Behaviour
  4. How to Prove Separation for a Singapore Divorce
Application for Divorce Part I: Dissolution of Marriage
  1. Procedure for Dissolution of Marriage
  2. Divorce Mediation in Singapore
  3. Divorce Application: What to Do If Your Spouse Cannot be Found
  4. Simplified Uncontested Divorce vs Contested Divorce in Singapore
Application for Divorce Part 2: Ancillary Matters (Maintenance, Assets, Custody)
  1. Procedure for Ancillary Matters
  2. What Happens to Gifts Between Spouses During a Divorce?
  3. What Happens to Property and Assets Located Overseas Upon a Divorce in Singapore?
  4. Getting Divorced: Child Maintenance in Singapore
  5. Singapore Divorcee's Guide to Relocating Your Child Overseas
  6. Filling in a Matrimonial Property Plan for a Singapore Divorce
  7. Maintenance of Spouse in a Singapore Divorce
  8. Guide to Child Custody, Care and Control, and Access in Singapore
  9. How the Court Divides Matrimonial Assets in a Singapore Divorce
Post-divorce
  1. What Happens to Your HDB Flat after Divorce?
  2. Variation of Maintenance Orders in Singapore
  3. Division of CPF Assets (Monies, House, Investments) After a Divorce
  4. Divorce Certs in Singapore: How to Get a Copy and Other FAQs
  5. Transfer of Matrimonial Home to Ex-Spouse After Divorce
  6. How to Appeal Your Divorce Case in Singapore
  7. Can Divorcees Buy or Rent HDB Flats, and How?
  8. What to Do If Your Ex-Spouse Denies You Access to Your Child
  9. What to Do If Your Ex-Spouse Does Not Provide Maintenance
Expatriate Divorce
  1. Can Foreigners Divorce in Singapore?
  2. Expat or Foreigner Divorce in Singapore: 10 Legal Issues to Consider
  3. Should British Expats Divorce in Singapore or England?
  4. Divorce for British Expats: How the English Courts Deal with Financial Matters
  5. Immigration Issues for Divorcing Expatriates
  6. Hague Convention: Overseas Child Abduction in Singapore Divorce
  7. Case Study: Cross-Border Child Custody and the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction
Muslim or Syariah Divorce
  1. Muslim Divorce in Singapore
  2. Applying for Nafkah Idaah and Mutaah in a Muslim Divorce in Singapore
  3. Talak in a Muslim Divorce in Singapore (and Its Effects)
  4. Guide to Divorcing by Khuluk for Muslim Wives in Singapore
Other divorce matters
  1. What Happens to Your HDB Flat After an Annulment?
  2. Case Study - Love conquers All: The Divorce That Didn’t Happen